Mapping the anti-trans laws sweeping America: ‘A war on 100 fronts’

·5 min read
<span>Photograph: Stephen Groves/AP</span>
Photograph: Stephen Groves/AP

On the first day of Pride month, the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, signed a law banning transgender girls from participating on girls’ sports teams in middle school through college.

It was just one of 13 anti-trans bills conservative lawmakers in the US passed this year, and one of more than 110 bills that were proposed – by far the largest number in US history.

This extraordinary legislative attack on trans rights has primarily targeted children and young adults and has dramatically escalated over the last several months, establishing anti-trans policy as a signature priority for state Republicans. The results could be catastrophic for vulnerable children, advocates and affected families say, given that the bills target healthcare, recreation and school life, with policies that intensify discrimination and exclusion of trans kids.

The proposals have spanned 37 states, affecting nearly every region of the country, according to Freedom for All Americans, a not-for-profit that has tracked the bills and compiled data for the Guardian.

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While most legislative sessions have now ended and a majority of the bills failed, there are at least six anti-trans bills that remain active, in addition to the 13 laws that passed.

“What we saw was unprecedented, and it was an avalanche,” said Jules Gill-Peterson, a professor of gender, sexuality and women’s studies at the University of Pittsburgh, and an expert on trans kids. “There’s this relentlessness and exhaustion. How do you fight a war on 100 fronts simultaneously?”

The most common target: trans athletes

The most common anti-trans proposals were focused on sports, many of them specifically seeking to ban trans girls from competing on girls’ teams.

Sports bills limiting the access of trans girls to teams have been passed this year in Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi and West Virginia. Bills that more broadly ban trans kids from playing on the teams that match their gender were signed into law in Alabama, Montana and Tennessee. (Arkansas also passed a second sports-related law that creates an enforcement mechanism for its ban.)

sports bills

In South Dakota, the sports bills failed, but the governor instead signed two executive orders banning trans girls from girls sports teams in K-12, and in college. There are several states where the legislative sessions are ongoing and these types of bans are still under consideration, including Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. In total more than 60 sports ban laws were proposed this year across 36 states.

“It’s a piece of your life that you work so hard for, and for it just to be taken away is hard,” a 12-year-old swimmer and trans girl in Utah told the Guardian earlier this year. The proposed ban in her state ultimately failed.

Other bills target gender-affirming healthcare

The bulk of the other anti-trans bills sought to outlaw gender-affirming healthcare, with at least 36 proposals related to medical treatments across 21 states.

In April, Arkansas passed the first ban on affirming healthcare for youth, with a policy that threatens to discipline or revoke the licenses of doctors who provide it. Experts and clinicians had strongly objected, arguing that the state was prohibiting care that is considered standard and best practice, and advocates said it was one of the most extreme anti-trans bills to ever be enacted.

healthcare

Tennessee later adopted a more narrow anti-trans medical bill, which prohibited hormone treatments for “prepubertal minors”. Advocates noted that youth do not receive hormones pre-puberty and that this law would not disrupt existing care, but was nonetheless sending a hateful message.

‘No goals here except discrimination’

Five states also considered anti-trans bathroom bills, with Tennessee ultimately passing two separate laws. One prohibits trans kids from using bathrooms and locker rooms at school that match their gender. Another requires that if businesses allow trans people to use the correct bathrooms, they have to post a sign that says, “This facility maintains a policy of allowing the use of restrooms by either biological sex, regardless of the designation on the restroom.”

Montana passed a law banning trans people from correcting the gender marker on their birth certificates if they haven’t undergone affirming surgery.

“State legislatures prioritized mean-spirited, dangerous and unnecessary bills targeting transgender kids at a moment when states are still recovering from the pandemic,” said Hannah Willard, the vice-president of government affairs with Freedom for All Americans. “It was unconscionable.”

Civil rights groups have begun filing lawsuits challenging the bills, some of which are scheduled to go into effect in July. These court battles could overturn or temporarily block the laws, but families have already reported fleeing their states to protect their kids. Some advocates have called on people in power to defy the laws, and the district attorney in Nashville has said he would not enforce one of the bathroom bills.

Trans youth, who have repeatedly traveled to their state capitols to testify against the bills, said the political debates about their lives have worsened their mental health and anxiety.

Related: How trans children became 'a political football' for the Republican party

“It’s hard to describe the magnitude of damage that has been done,” said Gill-Peterson. “Even in the states where the bills didn’t pass, trans young people are living in an environment where prominent politicians have stated that it’s open season on their lives, that they don’t deserve basic human rights, that their lives are expandable or wrong, and that the people who love and care for them are somehow enemies of the Republican party.”

She said she feared that the next legislative cycle would bring even more extreme bills, adding, “There were no goals here except discrimination, and cheap political points. And now, we are living in a more policed, more dangerous country for trans young people.”

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